International Right to Know Day
Government urged on to enact right to information laws
ISLAMABAD, September 28, 2010: The Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) has urged the federal government and signatories of Charter of Democracy (CoD) to make good on their promises of enacting better and comprehensive laws on the right to information to strengthen democratic institutions, combat corruption and to ensure public accountability.
International Right to Know Day, observed every year on September 28, gives us an opportunity to take stock of the existing situation pertaining to legislations, procedures and institutions involved in the process of ensuring the availability of information held by the government. Existing freedom of information regime in Pakistan, consisting of Freedom of Information Ordinance (FOIO) 2002, Local Government Ordinance (LGO) 2001, Balochistan Freedom of Information Act 2005 and the Sindh Freedom of Information Act 2006 are inadequate and CPDI has long been demanding to improve them in line with international best practices. Transparent functioning of the government and accountability of the public representatives will remain a pipe dream until we have effective freedom of information regime.
Despite the commitment for enactment of right to information law in the Charter of Democracy signed by PPP and PML-N and subsequent public pledges by the political leaders to this effect, legislation on this issue has not been carried out.
In his first speech in National Assembly after being elected as prime minister of Pakistan on March 29, 2008, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani stated: “A new freedom of information law would be brought to promote press freedom while the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) would be made a subsidiary of the Ministry of Information and its law changed”.
Similarly, while addressing the joint session of the Parliament soon after becoming the president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari stated: “We will soon be bringing other fundamental laws, such as the Freedom of Information Bill, and work with stakeholders towards an open atmosphere of self-regulation with no interference from the state.” (September 20, 2008).
Former minister for information and broadcasting of the PPP government, Sherry Rehman, also made repeated statements on behalf of the government. For instance, she stated on November 21, 2008: “Freedom of Information Bill would shortly be tabled in the parliament after incorporating the views of the provincial governments in it”.
Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira has also made repeated public commitments regarding early enactment of right to information law. However, his ministry has been extremely slow, as significant time has passed since the PPP government took over.
Similarly, provincial governments of Balochistan and Sindh need to repeal their existing weak and ineffective freedom of information laws and Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa need to carry out legislation after consultations with all stakeholders.
The proposed freedom of information laws should be in line with international best practices if federal and provincial governments are any serious in making their functioning open and transparent.
CPDI also demands that in the new federal and information right to information laws, dispute resolution pertaining to information requests and their denial by the public functionaries should not be entrusted to federal ombudsman and provincial ombudsmen as presently is the case. If we are serious about creating a culture in which information flows freely, we will have to establish independent federal and provincial information commissions, vesting them with powers to ensure that government departments disclose information proactively as well as make it available to citizens on demand.